WITCHES AND GHOSTS
Along Walnut Tree Lane that runs down the hill from the Church to Gibraltar Farm there used to be several small cottages for agricultural labourers. In one there used to live a witch - or so the locals called her. She used to stop anyone going along the lane and ask for alms. If they refused she used to put a curse on them and people were terrified of her. Hilda Brooker reported that the witch had told a relation of her grandmother's that he must run up and down his garden path from dusk until dawn because he had displeased her. He did and nearly died of exhaustion in the morning!
There was considerable fear of hell, fire and damnation in the not too distant past. Vicars and preachers told some good sermons about it. People of the 18th and 19th centuries had a great fear of the devil. One woman in the village reported seeing the devil at the head of her bed when she was dying. People in the village used to sleep with their windows closed at night as they believed evil spirits flew around in the hours of darkness. In a lot of old houses the sign of the cross was cut into the beams on door lintels, around fireplaces and doors. Like hanging garlic to ward off vampires, people believed the evil spirit would not pass the sacred sign. These can still be seen in some of the old cottages.
Sir Humphrey Winch, whose memorial can be seen in the Church, had nine witches burned at the stake. He got into the history books as it was on the testimony of a small boy. It is generally believed that it was the women who knew about herbal and other natural remedies and their pots and potions were not accepted in some circles as being appropriate treatment. Some suggest that they might have had "extra sensory perception" or "second sight." The wife of the tenant of Park Farm knew a lot about wild herbs and used to make cough. cures and ointments. One of her ointments which was much sought after was "The Black Ointment" for septic sores and cuts. This she made with sheep droppings mixed with herbs and my grandfather used to collect the droppings for her and herbs and leaves from the hedgerows and ditches.
Several apparitions are said to have been seen in Manor Farm. One was a Quaker Lady who walked through a bedroom wall, another was a young girl who was combing her hair in front of a mirror, and the other was a man in old-fashioned riding clothes who stood in the kitchen. A children’s doll and the mummified bodies of a cat and a rat were found in one of the walls in the farm, thought to have been put in to prevent ghosts.
According to popular belief a Mrs Peers could charm away warts. Mrs Peers was tall and very slender and one little girl heard her mother say Mrs Peers was nothing but a clothes prop.. She told her friends and they decided she had no "behind" but as women in those days wore skirts gathered and bunched together at the back they suggested she had a bundle of rags stuffed up her skirt. So prodded on by her friends one child knocked on her door and asked "Please Mrs Peers have you got a behind", "Cause I have gel," said Mrs Peers, "Whatever made you ask such a silly question?" "Well!" said the child, "My Mum," pointing to the culprit "said you were a clothes prop". Mrs Peers, being a jolly woman, laughed, and replied "Be off with you". (Hilda Brooker, p.6)
Pat Linford who lived next to Mr Tom Wisson, was a character some people avoided as she was supposed to have superhuman powers and put curses on anyone who displeased her. Hers was one of the families scratching a living from the soil on the Horse race where the coprolites were extracted. The topsoil is very sandy and not very fertile unless well manured. Pat Linford's family declared they had a right to it. The real owner decided to sell the land as a big plot that the village people could not afford to buy. So Pat Linford put a curse on it and declared whoever bought it would come to a bad end. She attended the auction and loudly proclaimed this but the land was sold to two market gardeners from Sandy who were then quite prosperous. Some years after one of them turned bankrupt the other committed suicide. Since then two other people have been found dead on this land, one had a heart attack and the other was found burned to death in his caravan.
Miss Masterson lived in one of the cottages down Victoria Hill (Walnut Tree Lane) and was often teased by some of the young lads in the village. Ted Smith recalls her always wearing a pill box hat and much enjoyed one day letting her eight goats loose and running away. She must have recognised him as she called the local policeman, Sergeant Whitehorn, who duly reprimanded the culprit. Locals called her the “Hungarian“ as she swore in a foreign language.